De Beauvoir Balloon Debate, Spring 2017



Julia Hobsbawm: “In the age of overload, we need to look after our social health.”

Julia Hobsbawm is Honorary Visiting Professor at London’s Cass Business School and is the author of books and articles on networks, communication, social health, women in business, and the future of the workplace. She wrote and presented the five-part BBC Radio 4 series “Networking Nation” and the new “Six Degrees of Connection” for BBC Radio 4. Her latest book is “Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload” (Bloomsbury).


Azeem Azhar: “Tech can make our futures better and brighter.”

Azeem Azhar is a strategist, inventor, product entrepreneur and writer. He has been working with technology ever since discovering his first computer, the ZX-81, in 1981.  He covered technology for The Guardian and The Economist and worked in strategy and innovation at the BBC and Thomson Reuters. Recently Azeem was founder and CEO of PeerIndex.  He is currently Vice President, Head of Venture & Foresight at the Schibsted Media Group. He blogs at The Exponential View.


Mark Chavez: “It’s time to flip who owns the data and disrupt the Cloud.”

Mark Chavez is the former CIO at He worked on building cloud computing for the enterprise, disrupting the software industry. He has launched a new start-up based in the UK and focused on completely disrupting the Cloud and its business model.


De Beauvoir Balloon Debate, Winter 2016

maguire     lara-prendergast    Josh Spero FT Staff.

Dr David Maguire: “We need to talk about masculinity”.

Dr David Maguire researches modern masculinity at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment. His work on the interplay of masculinity, education, place, crime and incarceration was influential in the RSA’S recent ‘Future Prison Project’. @Dee0871

Lara Prendergast: “Technology has taken over the mind.”

Lara Pendergast is online editor for The Spectator and food and drink editor for Spectator Life. She has perviously worked at the Telegraph and Vogue India, and has written for the Financial Times, the Evening Standard, the Erotic Review and Apollo Magazine. @laraprendergast

Josh Spero: “How can a Jew love Wagner?”

Josh Spero is deputy editor, Special Reports, at the Financial Times, where he has written about his love of Wagner, and is also a consulting editor for FT Live. He is Tatler’s art critic and the author of Second-Hand Stories (Unbound, 2015), a book about the people who used to own his books. @joshspero

De Beauvoir Balloon Debate, Autumn 2016

LOCATION: St Peter De Beauvoir, Northchurch Terrace, London N1 4DA

TIME: Arrive at 7pm for prompt 7.30pm starts. Ends at 9.30pm.





“To tackle extremism we must recognise what unites totalitarians.”

Sean O’Callaghan is a writer and expert on exremist ideology. He is also a former member of the IRA. In 1988 he handed himself in and was given a 539-year prison sentence by a Belfast court before finally being pardoned in 1997. His most recent book was published this year, marking the anniversary of th Easter Rising “James Connolly: My Search for the Man, the Myth and his legacy”.‘The Informer’, was published in 1999.


SIGNE JOHANSEN: “What Britain needs now is hygge.”

Signe Johansen is a Norwegian chef, author and journalist, with a special interest in the anthropology and ‘soft power’ of food and Nordic culture. She ran the acclaimed EastScandi supper club in London, which was featured in the New Yorker. Her forthcoming book, “How to Hygge” (Panmacmillan), explores how hygge (which roughly translates to “cosiness” but encompasses humanity and empathy) is central to the Nordic sense of happiness and wellbeing.


RICHARD MOLLET : “Demagogues are a necessary menace.”

Richard Mollet was a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in South West Surrey in 2010. He is currently head of European Government Affairs at the RELX Group, which owns Elsevier and LexisNexis, working on public policy issues on copyright, digital rights and Brexit. Previously he spent five years as CEO of The Publishers Association.



ianDuntdigital  JonHolbrook  Whelan

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

7.30pm, St Peter De Beauvoir Crypt

Northchurch Terrace, London N1 4HDA

On the eve of Britain’s historic referendum, the De Beauvoir Balloon Debate opens its doors to three passionate speakers.


“Europe without the EU would be at the mercy of the past.”

Ian Dunt is the editor of He specialises in issues around immigration, civil liberties, democracy, free speech and social justice and appears regularly on the BBC, Sky and Al-Jazeera as well as a variety of radio stations.


“Democracy needs the nation state.”

Jon Holbrook is a barrister based in London. He was shortlisted for the Legal Journalism prize at the Halsbury Legal Awards 2014.


“The referendum is asking us to dismantle the political order. We should answer yes.”

Ella Whelan is a staff writer at Spiked Online. She also writes regularly for the Spectator and City AM.



Read about the Spring Debate here.


“The Labour Party of Attlee is dead.”

Dr John Bew is a historian and author whose fifth book, a biography of Clement Attlee. As a reader in History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department at King’s College London, and senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, he recently published a history of Realpolitik. John is a contributing writer to the New Statesman.


“Party cultures change but member values survive.”

Kate Godfrey is a former candidate for the Labour Party, and fought a key seat (Stafford) in 2015. She later bid to be a candidate in the Oldham by-election. Kate writes a popular blog and has contributed to debates over the direction of the Labour Party. Prior to politics, she worked for many years in Africa and the Middle East.

Roger Harding

“We need to talk about solidarity.”

Roger Harding is director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter. He is a frequent commentator on public policy issues relating to housing and welfare. Previously, he was senior policy & public affairs manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

EDUCATION: Winter 2015

For the first time, this evening’s Balloon Debate will focus on one theme: Education. 

Read about the evening here.

TonyFish     Catriona_Maclay     JoannaWilliams


“There are no jobs in the future. We need to stop educating as if there will be.”

Tony Fish is an author, investor and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Fab Labs, a 3D-printing workspace in the City of London.


“Every community needs its pirate ship for learning.”

Catriona Maclay is the founding director of the Hackney Pirates, which helps young people develop their literary skills and confidence. She has also worked at Ashoka, a global network for social entrepreneurs, and as a secondary schoolteacher in North London.


“Schools cannot compensate for society.”

Dr Joanna Williams has worked in and written about schools, colleges and higher education for over 20 years. She is the education editor of Spiked and the author of Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought (Bloomsbury, 2012). Her latest book, “Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity”, will be published in January.

De Beauvoir Balloon Debate, Autumn 2015

Wednesday, October 7th, 7.30pm


DominicCummings          Clare Hornsby            DarrenHall


‘Britain out of the EU would be fairer, safer and more prosperous.’

As campaign director at Business for Sterling between 1999 and 2002, Dominic Cummings made the successful case to keep Britain out of the eurozone. He is currently advising the groups preparing to make the case to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum. A former special adviser to Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education, Dominic’s career also includes a successful campaign against a North East Regional Assembly.


‘Beauty will save the world.’

Dr Clare Hornsby is an art historian specialising in 18th-century art and architecture, and the history of music, aesthetics and culture. She has lived and worked in France and Italy, and is currently based in London as the founding trustee and director of Benedictus, the UK’s first Catholic liberal arts college.


‘Democracy is dead (long live democracy).’

Darren Hall is a former RAF engineer and the founding director of The Pale Blue Dot, a leadership organisation. He led the team that won Bristol the 2015 European Green Capital Award. Darren is now executive director of Love the Future CIC, which runs Europe’s largest festival of sustainability every June.

De Beauvoir Balloon Debate, Summer 2015

WEDNESDAY, JULY 22ND, 7.30pm  


Following a successful first event, the De Beauvoir Balloon will descend once again to test which of three ideas is worth saving for a civilised future!

On July 22nd, the unique debate format will give three speakers the chance to make a compelling case for a cause they care about, and challenge them to defend its worth. At the end of the evening, a quick vote will decide which of the three ideas has earned the right to stay in humanity’s hot air balloon.

. william-davies-photo            Sherine El Taraboulsi            AustinWilliams_Debate


“The science of happiness is ultimately a tool of social control.”

Dr Will Davies is a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is Director of the Political Economy Research Centre. His weblog is at and his new book is “The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business sold us Wellbeing” (Verso).


“The ethics of cowardice: radicalisation is a manifestation of our moral failure.”

Sherine El Taraboulsi is completing her doctoral studies at Oxford University on the role of civil society in divided countries, with a focus on Libya, pre-Qaddafi. She is a Weidenfeld Scholar, sits on the Middle East task force at the Atlantic Council and has also served as a consultant to the Salzburg Global Seminar and the United States Institute of Peace.


“Why sustainability is the most dangerous philosophy of our times.”

Austin Williams is the director of Future Cities Project and associate professor in architecture at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. He is a Chartered Architect, film producer and journalist and was previously the technical editor at the Architects’ Journal and transport correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. He is the co-author of “The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs” (Pluto Press) and an editor of “The Future of Community: Reports of a Death Greatly Exaggerated.”

The Inaugural De Beauvoir Balloon Debate, May 2015

Claire-Fox           edmaggs4           Robert Phillips

Wednesday May 20th, 7.30pm

St Peter’s Crypt, Northchurch Terrace, London N1 4DA

Three fascinating speakers will have 15 minutes each to make their case for an important idea. Each will face challenges from a questioning audience, and each other, to test its strength. At the end of the evening, a quick vote will decide which of the three ideas has earned the right to be saved.

Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas will argue that freedom of speech means nothing without the right to offend.

Ed Maggs, of the antiquarian booksellers Maggs Bros., will give two cheers for inertia: why the printed word won’t lie down and die.

Robert Phillips of Jericho Chambers will explain how PR has perished and that trust must therefore triumph.

Who will convince De Beauvoir that their idea most deserves a place in humanity’s hot air balloon?Join the first of what we hope will be a regular series of thought-provoking and enjoyable evenings.